We all know that as using social networking gains more and more ground, that it will eventually infiltrate our judicial system. Whether it is an alibi via Facebook status, violating a protective order via "poke" on Facebook, or even cyberbullying, social media is poised to enter the legal arena. It also brings up ethical issues for lawyers and judges.
Trying to head off such situations before they occur, the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee has issued an opinion about the ethical issues that crop up when Florida judges use social networking sites. While this opinion addresses Florida judges, it highlights ethical issues that all legal professionals should think about. Here are some of the issues that were discussed in the opinion:
May a judge post comments or material on their social networking page?
The answer is yes. So long as a judge does not post anything that would possibly violate the Code of Judicial Conduct, they can post comments and other materials on their page.
May a judge have "friends" on their page that happen to be lawyers that appear before them in court?
The answer is no. The committee fears that if a Florida judge is "friends" with lawyers who appear before them in court, it will give the general impression that these lawyers are in a special position to influence the judge.
While the committee understands that this may not necessarily be the case, just giving the impression that a "friend" can influence the judge is enough reason to bar judges from "friending" lawyers that appear before them in court.
May a committee campaigning for a judge's candidacy establish a social networking page on behalf of the campaign?
The answer is yes. The Code of Judicial Conduct does not address or restrict a judge's or campaign committee's method of communication but rather addresses its substance.
Therefore, this proposed conduct, whether by the judge or the campaign committee, does not violate the Code of Judicial Conduct. The committee has previously concluded that campaign committees may establish websites for otherwise permitted campaign purposes.
This means that Florida judges can have a social networking page for campaign purposes, but they need to focus on what content goes up on those pages. The committee also warns against judges being a member of these pages. They are not allowed to be "fans" of their own campaigns.
As Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn become more popular, it is always best to remember that less is more. If you happen to work in the legal profession, you know that there is a certain code of ethics and conduct that you must uphold in your professional and even daily life. This includes not only your actions in the "real world," but your actions online as well.
While this opinion addresses Florida judges, legal professionals as a whole need to be wary of who they consort with online, and what they say.
- Out of Order on Facebook: Judge Reprimanded for Online Discussion of Case (Findlaw's Law and Daily Life)
- Twitter Trials: Juror Johnathan's Tweets Cause $12 Million Verdict Appeal; Reporter Tweets a Federal Trial (Findlaw's Common Law)
- How Courts Can Cite Internet Materials in Opinions (Findlaw's Technologist)